Billy's Law aims to close gaps for substance abuse while driving
In September of 2013, two Traverse City men lost their lives in an accident near Grand Rapids, caused by a driver who reportedly had cocaine in his system. But the evidence could not be used in court because of Michigan law.
Now family members and lawmakers have proposed a bill, Billyâ??s Law, that they say could have made a difference in the outcome of the case.
â??It was so upsetting because it's the truth,â?? said Shannon Kochis, wife of Billy Kochis who died in the crash. â??Itâ??s actually what happened. You can't bring the truth to what actually happened because of the law?â??
Patrick Doerr was sentenced on Monday to one year behind bars on two misdemeanor charges, after causing the crash that killed Billy Kochis and John Pomeroy. According to Kochis' family, witnesses had reported that Doerr's truck was driving erratically and moving at excessive speeds. Michigan State Police Troopers who were on scene asked Doerr to submit to a blood test at the hospital but he refused.
The Michigan Vehicle Code states that officers who wish to test drivers who they believe caused an accident, must obtain a search warrant from a judge or magistrate if the driver refuses.
â??Michigan State Police made an attempt to contact the Kent County magistrate and that magistrate denied the search warrant to secure chemical tests from Mr. Doerr,â?? said John Collins, Billyâ??s cousin and a retired MSP forensic specialist. â??As a result, prosecutors in the case were not able to charge Mr. Doerr with a felony.
Doerr's urine sample that was obtained by the hospital for health reasons showed that he had cocaine in his system. That evidence could not be used in the court case.
"Current law is that with the proper warrants and such you can test blood in an accident with a fatality," said Rep. Wayne Schmidt. "We want to treat urine in the same way. That was the technicality that was missing in the very tragic accident down in Grand Rapids."
Billy's Law was started by Kochis' wife, Shannon, and cousin, John Collins. Itâ??s being backed by Rep. Schmidt and Senator Howard Walker.
Their proposal is to have urine tests treated the same as blood tests during an investigation involving a car accident resulting in serious injury or a fatality. Theyâ??d also like to make it so that officers wonâ??t need a warrant to test the suspect.
â??Our intention is that they would be able to gather that blood or urine evidence without a warrant,â?? said Sen. Walker.
Under the amendment, if the driver refuses the request, like Doerr did, officers would be able to treat it like a refused Breathalyzer test.
â??And the consequence for not providing a Breathalyzer test is youâ??re arrested and you go down to jail," said Sen. Walker.
Billyâ??s family says theyâ??ve been left with a lot of questions about whether or not the reported cocaine in Doerrâ??s system actually caused the crash. They say if Michigan law had been different at the time, these changes could have given them their answer.
â??It wasn't about giving him a life sentence,â?? said Kochis. â??I didn't want to give him a life sentence. I just wanted the truth out there. I wanted that to be concrete. He was doing cocaine. I wanted that in there. And I want families to have all the evidence brought forth because you know when someone does this to your life they rip it apart.â??
Kochis hopes that if the changes in Billyâ??s Law are put into action, that other families in the future who suffer from similar circumstances can get the closure they need.
â??I just thought you know if I could do anything good if I can make sure that this doesn't happen to another family, that we need to change some things,â?? said Kochis.
Kochis says she also hopes it makes people think twice before getting into a car when they are under the influence.
Sen. Walker says there are concerns from people that these potential changes could be a violation of rights and privacy. He says they are and will continue to explore that and make any necessary changes.
The proposal is in the early stages. Sen. Walker and Rep. Schmidt hope to introduce the bill into state legislature sometime in July.
For more information about Billy's Law,click here.